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Who is Sovereign in the Spread of the Gospel? The Amillennial Binding of Satan

October 19, 2012 4 comments

I’ve previously posted here and here concerning the Amillennial idea of Satan being bound now.  Michael Vlach’s article, Is Satan Bound?, is another great resource.  In this post, though, I’m looking at one particular feature of the Amillennial binding of Satan.   In answer to the very obvious fact that this world still abounds in evil, and the New Testament scriptures mention Satan as an active lion and someone to be on our guard against, a common amillennial claim is an altered meaning of Revelation 20:1-3:  that Satan is only bound now in one sense, that the gospel is not hindered and can be freely spread about throughout the world.  A friend’s amillennial pastor recently affirmed this amillennial explanation of the binding of Satan, adding that “If Satan’s power hadn’t been restricted (at the time of the cross), no one could have been saved after the cross.”

Aside from the fact that the binding described in Revelation 20 is quite forceful, nothing so limited as this idea, such an explanation poses some serious problems, including the very obvious fact that some parts of the world are very much still in Satanic bondage, places of rampant paganism, spiritual oppression, even Islamic dominance; the gospel has been hindered and not received in certain places and times throughout church history.

But going further to the heart of the matter:  the book of Acts directly tells us who it is that allows and prevents the spread of the gospel.  Acts 16:6-7 describes Paul’s attempts to go east into Bithynia and Asia.  First they went through Phrygia and Galatia, “having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia;” and then they went to Mysia and “attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.”  Does this really sound anything like a present-day binding of Satan such that Satan is really the sovereign one who determines where the gospel can and cannot go?  As hard as it may be for some to accept, it really is God who sovereignly determines —  just as He does with the election of individuals — which nations and peoples get to hear the gospel at any given point in time, in this the Church age.

Then too, if Satan was only bound at the cross, thus no longer preventing the spread of the gospel, and “if Satan’s power hadn’t been restricted, no one could have been saved after the cross” is true, then how indeed were people saved before that point in time?  As Jonah proclaimed over 700 years before the cross, Salvation is of the Lord.  Salvation has always been sovereignly determined by God, who hardens who He will (such as Pharaoh) and saves who He will, in His sovereign purposes. The biblical record shows this was always the case, along with the fact that many non-Israelites were saved before the first century AD.

The Old Testament has numerous accounts of Gentile individuals who were God’s people: to begin with, the people who lived before there even was a nation of Israel:  Adam and Eve; Abel; Enoch; Noah and the other seven people with him in the ark; Job; not to mention the patriarchs (from whom the nation later came).  During the Mosaic period, certainly the other nations were left to themselves while God focused His attention on the nation Israel, and yet even during those centuries we find several references to individuals saved (through coming into contact with Israel).

Then we consider the historical record, the beginning of the times of the Gentiles and the years between the Old and New Testament, still the pre-Cross time (before circa A.D. 30).  Daniel in particular, and other Jews no doubt to some extent as well, had great influence among their neighboring Gentiles, such that a few centuries later we find the maji from the East looking for the Messiah at His birth in Bethlehem – men who evidently had some knowledge of the Hebrew scriptures and were actually more aware of the time and looking for Him, than did the Jews whom they questioned for further information.  Jewish synagogues had been established throughout the Greek/Roman empire, with many of them still living outside of Israel, and we also see historical indications of Jewish proselytization among those Gentiles: certainly not on the same scale as what took place later in the book of Acts, but there were at least some God fearers and converts to Judaism during this pre-Cross time.  John 12 describes the coming of some Greeks to see Jesus; this was still before the event of the crucifixion and resurrection and Satan’s supposed “binding.”

The gospel went forth with greater results (than previously seen) in the early years of the Church, as recorded in the book of Acts.  Yet even during Paul’s missionary journeys, Satan continued to obstruct and hinder, such that Paul even said that “Satan hindered us” (1 Thess. 2:18).  Even during that great early growth of the church, the same general pattern was observed as from ancient times: saving faith in a relative few within the overall population of each setting, while the majority did not respond.  The same God was sovereign over where He allowed the gospel to spread or not spread (again, as Acts 16:6-7 explicitly tells us), just as before the cross.  The spreading of the gospel message is not something that Satan has sovereignty over.